The romance of Italy has drawn in countless travelers over its long and storied past, from the ancient ruins of Rome to the famed canals of Venice, but central Florence and Tuscany are unsurpassed in their beauty and rich cultural heritage. The wealthy Medici family made Florence the birthplace of the Renaissance and its artistic legacy has been well-preserved, attracting millions of tourists each year.
A fall visit will reward you with thinner crowds and gradually warming temperatures, but if you have the freedom to visit during a shoulder season, plan your trip for late spring. Tuscany’s international fame as a wine region is well earned and many wineries may close to the public during harvest. Whatever time of year you visit, the attractions within Florence’s limits are manifold.
Florence is a divinely walkable city – in fact, the government is so committed to preserving this Renaissance town’s history that permits are required to drive inside the city limits. At the pedestrian-friendly heart of town lies Brunelleschi’s masterful Duomo. Its orange-red cupola is universally recognizable, inspired Michelangelo to craft the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, and also makes for one of the world’s best cathedral climbs, offering both stellar panoramic views and an up-close look at the church’s intricately painted ceiling. The best views of Florence, however, are to be gotten just outside town at Piazzale Michelangelo – the city skyline at sunset is breathtaking.
Art lovers won’t find a better European city break than Florence. The fruits of Florence’s Italian Renaissance heyday are on display at the Uffizi Gallery, an expansive aesthetic heaven that could easily take days to fully explore. If your time is limited, make sure you at least view the Uffizi’s most famous masterpiece, Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” It may be tempting to skip the Galleria d’Accademia, since exact replicas of Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David are peppered throughout town and don’t have any price tag attached, but if you do, you’ll be missing out. The original is simply without compare and its flawless presentation in the gallery only adds to its hypnotic allure.
History lovers may also want to wander into the church of Santa Croce, where you’ll find memorials to Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli, among other Italian greats. A stroll along the Ponte Vecchio, long renowned for its goldsmiths, is also a must-do, but if you’re looking to make a purchase, you and your wallet are better off heading a few streets further north, where you’ll find true artisans instead of overpriced tourist traps. Florence is also the center of Italy’s famous leather trade and a supple bag or wallet can make an ideal souvenir.
When you’re ready to escape the city streets, venture into Tuscany’s rolling hills to the charming hamlet of San Gimignano or one of Chianti’s many vineyards. The Sangiovese grape has made its home in this region, feeding some of the world’s most iconic red blends for hundreds of years. You’ll also find more modern Super Tuscans, incorporating non-indigenous grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Whatever you choose to fill your glass with, you’re sure to find a worthy food pairing. Tuscany’s gourmet reputation is well deserved. Dig into a juicy bistecca alla Fiorentina, savor a fresh pasta dish, or warm up with a rib-sticking bowl of ribollita, a traditional Tuscan stew. Finish off your meal with a digestivo, like sweet-tart limoncello or anise-flavored sambuca.
From the region’s devoted foodie culture to its incomparable artistic heritage, Florence and Tuscany truly encompass Italy at its finest.